Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Biography of Rev P.T. Chandapilla - reseach by Rev Jeet Singh
Rev. Podimannil Thomas Chandapilla (18 March 1926 - ) was born in a very poor family, where he saw poverty very closely. However, due to the great commitment and sacrifice of his parents he was provided good education even though his family was not in position to provide him. Later in his life he got opportunity to go USA for his theological studies.
Soon after finishing his theological studies while working with UESI he became famous international evangelical gospel speaker and theologian who was known for his self sacrificing life style. Presently he is the Vicar General of the ST. Thomas Evangelical Church of India (STECI). In this paper the author deals with his biography and sees what his contributions to the Indian church are.
1. Formative Factors
1.1Early Life and influence of his Mother
P T Chandapilla was born in 18 March 1926. He was married to Dorothy Roshan Sentu on February 27, 1956 at Rajanandgaon, Madhya Pradesh and has one daughter. His parents come from Syrian Christian background and were members of the Mar Thoma Church. Initially for almost 18 years his father worked with Church Missionary Society (CMS) in village Kuzhickala of Central Travancore as a (updesi) preacher. But later when he was asked to take full membership in the mission’s work, he left the mission and joined the Voluntary Evangelistic Association of the Mar Thoma Church and served as a rural home missionary, which mean that he lost all the financial support from CMS and henceforth he had to support his family with his own way. However, his mother remained loyal to his father in his all adventures decisions.
He was the only son to his parents with other two sisters as his siblings. His father was Chiramannil Chadaplilla Thomas and mother was Sosamma Thomas gave great support to her husband because of poverty that they were facing. The Thomas family never believed in taking debt, whatever situation comes in their lives, this made their situation further worst. Even though it was a forced married yet she stood beside her husband when plate and pocket were empty and made a point that her family will not go hungry. In those days getting a cup of milk and a rice cake from the coffee shop was a luxurious item for the children.
However, even in extreme poverty they decided to provide best available education to their son. Hence he was sent in Mar Thoma Boarding school and Gurukulam High School, famous in then know times beside the greatest gift that is Bible. There were times when due to lack of payments of fees he would hide from the teacher’s eyes and attend his lectures and sleep in the big jungle in night that was around the school building. Whatever may be the situation that came on his way he was able to finish his schooling. But later he had opportunity to study four years in USA.
His mother was a very pious and God fearing women. She had lasting impact on her son’s life. Even in extreme poverty she maintained Christian virtues in her life and showed exemplary life to her children. Some of the basic Christian virtues were so strongly imparted in her children’s lives by the stories of Abraham Linclon’s mother, and of Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, stories of George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Apostle Paul and Bishop Abraham Mar Thoma. She inspired her children that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom, not to lie, prayer is the only way for all the situations, essential quiet time in other words no Bible – no food, personal honesty and clean Christian testimony and so on.
1.2 His call for the Lord’s work
The mind of P. T. Chadaplilla for the Lord’s work was prepared by his parents through their exemplary Christian life. There was one important incident which made him to see the love of Christ reflected through his parents’ life that was caring for an outcaste girl till her death by his parent in his home which made him to know the value of a precious soul. Even though this incident brought great indignation from people side yet it showed him the courage, determination, commitment of his missionary parents to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Further, her mother’s devotion to Christ led him to know about Christ and the call of God for His work. The call for the Lord’s work came very adventurously to him through the visions and dream shared to him by his mother in his childhood when he came home for summer break from Mar Thoma Mission Boarding school where he was studying in high school. By now his mother was mentally sick, but when she would relax she would share her inner thoughts with him.
One day after sharing a dream with her son she gave a call for the ministry in these words, “Son, your father and me never reach this waiting and hungry crowd of thousands. They are waiting for you to go and tell the news of Christ Jesus and His power to save. So my son, you will take charge of this unfinished task of your father and me. The duty is yours to reach them with the message. Truly they are all waiting in thousands. My son, it is you who will reach them with the message of Jesus. That is the meaning of my delightful dream.” He narrated this vision many times in his teaching and preaching when ever he got opportunity, especially some of the precious words of this dream have become very life for him, “I dreamed of thousands, they all wait for you.” This was the basic reasons for him to take up the vocation of Lord’s work. Thus the mind of young boy was prepared for the Lord’s works and call for this task was given to him. First 25 years of his parents had committed Christian ministry but next 25 years his mother was sick with schizophrenic disease till death and never her own self.
1.3 Impact of Second World War
P T Chandapilla finished his high school in the year of 1942, when the II world war just at its height. The impact of this war was employment crisis in India. Many unemployed people were struggling to have jobs. The only easy job was available in military service in the various cadres. The year of 1942 was the year of greatest adversity, trial and despair in his life. Due to war money was in short supply all over the country which affected Thomas’s family too. But this was the year which he spent with his parents after long year’s separation of schooling and missionary service and saw poverty very closely through the mature eyes. In those days poverty could be seen in his prayer, written in his book My Mother! My Teacher! Tributes of a Son to a Godly Mother, “O Lord, give me one full meal to eat and then let me die.”
Chandapilla worked for some time as a teacher in a free school where education was provided free of cost to the children coming from poor background on a voluntarily basis. However, this he did in order to get opening for the better employment. The whole family went through period of extreme struggle in their life. This made Chandapilla to question the wisdom of his father’s vocational choice and the futility of all the Christian service. But, at his time a failed attempt to join in military made him realized that his parents wanted him to become an ordained minister in the Mar Thoma Church. Further, it was his mother’s great desire that her only son would one day become like St. Paul or Bishop Abraham Mar Thoma. She used to tell him again and again that, “Son it is enough if you become like St. Paul and Bishop Abraham.” But young Chandapilla was still not ready for the work of the Lord; he went on doing male nursing course at American Presbyterian Mission Hospital. It was here when in reality he met the Lord in an intelligent way and had intelligent understanding about Christ.
1.4 Impact of Evangelical thinkers
He was very much influence by two prominent evangelical thinkers and their life style, one made indirect impact and other direct. Indirectly, he was influenced by Bishop Abraham Mar Thoma who was his mother’s contemporary and who was filled with the burden for the evangelization of all of India. His stories which he had heard from the mouth of his mother astonished him. Bishop Abraham Mar Thoma dies soon after the Indian Independence in 1947 and the second personality was the Rev. K K Methew who was a rich land owner, but was known for his missionary zeal. Whose self-sacrificial life became the role model in the life of Chandapilla. It is a known fact that when STECI went through financial crisis for years it was Rev. K K Methew who kept selling his property in order to support financial the families of the clergies of STECI.
2. Ministerial life
Soon after the completion of Chandapilla’s male nursing training, he had opportunity to finish his theological studies (M.Div) through Columbia International University. After completion of M.Div in 1955 he joined as a first Indian staff worker and later became first General Secretary of Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI). But after serving twenty year with UESI, he joined STECI and in 1977, he became an ordained minister of STECI and later he was installed as Vicar General of the same Church.
He was entrusted the task of starting a Bible College as the premier theological institute of STECI by the Church council as one of the Silver Jubilee projects in 1987, at Thiruvilla where he had gone to preach in the Annual Convention of STECI. Thus, the birth of Jubilee Memorial Bible College took place on 15th August 1987 in Anna Nagar Chennai. It is interesting to note the name of college was suggested to the church council by the present principle The Rev. John M. Prashad. However, presently, The Very Rev. P T Chandapilla serves as the Vicar General of the STECT.
Around 1970, the All India Missionary Conference held in Hindustan Bible Institute Chennai paved the way for him to come in light on a national Christian level. Further, he became one of the prominent national key leaders when the All India Missionary Conference in 1974 held in Nagpur brought him on a national Christian leadership level. It was here when a great shift took place in his thinking. So far he was working with a Para-church but now he declared that he subscribes to the Episcopal Church and that the missionary task was the mandate of Church and not the mandate of a Para-church organization. This became the major cause for his resignation from UESI and joining in the STECI. The birth of Professional Associates and Decentralization of Tamil Nadu was another millstone in his life in the year of 1977 at that time he was working as a Pastor in STECI.
He was also instrumental in initiating a national movement in order to bring all the Evangelical Churches underneath one umbrella so that they would represent themselves as a single Evangelical body on a national level. Thus he became founder of the Federation of the Evangelical Churches of India (FECI), and further he became the first founding general secretary of FECI around 1976. However, this federation did not last long and died after his resignation from the post of General Secretary. He also had great influence upon many other famous National evangelicals such as Bishop C. V. Matthew, Theodore William, Sam Kamleson, Sayakrit Rao and so on. He has also developed a course for the theological students South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) – a leading theological institute of India and has taught there for almost 4 years.
2.2 International Influence
P T Chandapilla was invited by Inter-Varsity Fellowship USA, to preach in Urbana Conference in 1969 as a key speaker along with Dr. Billy Graham. He was one of the board members of International Federation of Evangelical Students. He keeps enjoy the fellowship of Dr. John Stott through letters. He had theological dialogue with him through the letter on the issue of hell and heaven.
3. Rev. P T. Chandapilla’s Writings
He has written four books: The Master Trainer, Servant, India’s McNally Tai, My Mother! My Teacher and a course material – Missiological Issues in New Testament Times for theological students of SAIACS. Beside this there are several of his articles published in souvenirs, and in magazines. One can easily find his evangelical conviction and zeal for the evangelization of India. His theological thoughts based on his books can be summarized as:
3.1 Servant-hood: His understanding on this issue was that the nature of Christian servant-hood is that the master becomes the servant. The Christian servant-hood is a call to stand at the end of the line, to be a slave with no rights, to be poor, to be considered a failure and finally to die an insignificant death of ignoble. The reason for a church, devoid of influence and revolutionary power is in the absence of Christian servant-hood in the life and vocation of us Christians in our times. To remain true to the call of the Master-Servant we need to resolutely resist the success-promotion-prosperity syndrome which characterizes the modern world.
3.2 Mission: He was a great visionary, was inspired by his mother to reach out thousands. His heart was for mission. Many years he served among students before coming in leadership positions. His missionary zeal could be summarized in his own words before he joined in UESI, “I used to watch hundreds of students coming out of colleges when classes were over in various cities as I travelled.”
3.3 Leadership: He has written a book The Master Trainer in which he describes about the leadership. He makes clear in this book that there are eight qualities: the quality of selectiveness, concentration, communicativesness, transparency, availability, practicality and stickability that help a person to develop as a leader. These qualities were exhibited in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ and were used by Paul to produce Timothy, Titus and others.
3.4 Self-Sacrificial lifestyle: Throughout his life, he lived an exemplary lifestyle. He took a vow soon after finishing his theological studies from USA, when he reached in India on seaport that he would never posses any property or any other possession. He threw all of his costly clothes and used to wear Lungi (tunic) and chappal (bathroom sandals) and said that I am always pilgrim passing from this world.
Rev. P T Chandapilla is known for his Biblical conviction and compassion. Some of his theological material is taught in the theological institute like SAIACS. According to the famous theologian and Bishop C. V. Mathew of STECI, if ever an epitaph was required for him, it would read, “He died serving.” Presently, he is bedridden in WM Hospital at Jubliee Memorial Bible College Chennai.
Chadapilla, P T. The Master Trainer, Secunderabad: OM Books, 2000.
........................ Servant, Pune: Select Book Pub., 1990.
........................ My Mother! My Teacher, Mumbai: GLS, 1972.
Jesusha. “Tete-a-tete”, Chennai: Campus Link, UESI, Jan-Feb, 2004.
John Prashad, Principal of Jubilee Memorial Bible Collage, Chennai, 30th Jan. 2009.